Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Giving Thanks

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We may be out of COVID quarantines and lockdowns, but we don't seem to be out of anxiety. With increased polarization and decreased composure, we seem to be, as a society, increasingly unsettled and angry.

Of course, as lawyers, we are used to this. Our profession is combative. We are polarized by the nature of our profession. And we take on the fears and pressures of our clients as we fight their battles so they can feel some peace. But just because we are used to that anxiety doesn't mean it is good.

I stay in contact with many students after they graduate law school. I try to help them navigate these dangerous waters. And the primary advice I give them when they call and say they are miserable happens to have a lot to do with the day we will be celebrating soon - Thanksgiving.

Last year, the ABA GPSolo Report published an article by Rebecca Howlett and Cynthia Sharp (of legalburnout.com), titled The Legal Burnout Solution: How to Improve Well-Being Through Gratitude. In that article they quote Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude, who notes that “The practice of gratitude . . . can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide” (Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007)).

The article gives several tips for cultivating gratitude, including journaling, breathing exercises, writing thank-you notes, and prayer and meditation. All of these exercises are intended to help us shift our thinking from dwelling on negatives to focusing on positive things. In doing so, you don't lessen the amount of work you need to do or the seriousness of our client's problems. But you do put those issues into perspective, and reframing your experiences, just like reframing the facts in a legal argument, has lasting impact.

In fact, as appellate practitioners and instructors we should know this lesson better than anyone. We know the lasting impact of framing issues in a given way. We know what to emphasize and what to de-emphasize in our writing. We know that our descriptive language will influence how our readers see the characters we write about. And we know that how we characterize the facts can impact how those characters are ultimately judged.

So this week, I'm going to take my own advice and try to focus on things that are noble and good and true. The friends I've made and kept, not those who are gone. The family I have left, not those I've lost. The people I've helped, not the cases I've lost. The good that I've done, and not the mistakes that I've made. And the time I have left, not the time I've wasted.

And I'm going to say "thank you" much more often. And as I try to think of people to say thank you to, I'm going to be thankful that the list is long. And growing longer.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for being who you are. Now, please, go give thanks of your own. And, in doing so, write yourself a better story.

(Image credits: Library of Congress, Udo Keppler, Lawyers at least have plenty to be thankful for, Puck, v. 74, no. 1916 (1913 November 19), centerfold)

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